Professor Mahendra Patel Professor Mahendra Patel

SENIOR academic pharmacist Professor Mahendra Patel has advocated greater involvement of community pharmacies in recruiting volunteers from ‘underrepresented’ minority communities for a ground-breaking Covid-19 treatment trial.

Putting pharmacy on the platform at the University of Oxford, Prof Patel has joined the PRINCIPLE trial on treatments for Covid-19 as its national black, Asian and minority ethnic and pharmacy research lead.

Speaking on Friday (September 18) to Pharmacy Business, he said: “Pharmacists play a hugely important role in reaching out to both patients and public, and at times stretching across a number of generations within one household.

“They are a unique and valuable resource who continue to be under-utilised in terms of their professional skill set and clinical expertise, especially within the community setting.”

The University of Oxford-led trial is currently testing two antibiotics: azithromycin and doxycycline, to see whether early treatment can help over-50s recover quickly from Covid, without needing hospital admission.

It is open across the UK to people aged over 50 with an underlying health condition or anyone aged over 65. Those with symptoms can join online from home or via GP practices across the country, without needing face-to-face visits.

Commenting on his new role as a co-investigator in one of the UK’s national priority platform trials, Dr Patel said: “This is a great opportunity for me to help showcase how pharmacists nationally can play a vital role in supporting this and other trials. Hopefully, this can be a precedence in many ways for greater pharmacy involvement in the future.

“I will also be sharing my many years of experience of working closely with black and Asian minority ethnic groups, to help increase awareness regarding the importance of engaging in the trial within these higher-risk communities, through both community and primary care settings.”

Thousands of volunteers are still needed, especially amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who are often underrepresented in this type of research but can be at a greater risk of developing a more serious Covid-19 illness.

Delivery of the trial and recruitment of participants is supported by the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Networks across more than 800 general practices.

Lead investigator Professor Chris Butler from University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences said: “Like other trials evaluating potential coronavirus treatments, recruiting participants into PRINCIPLE who are at most risk of developing serious illness is the best way to understand whether these treatments are going to be effective.

“Conventional patient recruitment strategies, which rely on utilising established national and regional clinical networks, often fail to reach those who are typically under-represented in health research.”